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Thailand Denies UN Access to Burmese Boat People


Thailand has denied United Nations experts access to Burmese refugees, following allegations that the Thai military left hundreds of them to die on the open seas.

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Wednesday urged international agencies looking into the allegations to speak to Thai officials.

On Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency requested access to 126 boat people held in Thailand to determine if they need international protection. The request came after reports that Thai military authorities forced up to 1,000 boat people to return to the open sea without adequate means of survival.

The military denies the accusation. Mr. Abhisit has said the government will investigate the allegations of abuse, while defending the country's right to control the influx of illegal refugees.

Most of the boat people held in Thailand are Burma's repressed Muslim minority known as Rohingya. Many have risked their lives in recent years to sail in small boats from Bangladesh and Burma to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. An estimated 200,000 live in neighboring Bangladesh, about 28,000 in U.N. refugee camps.

Some surviving migrants and human rights groups say that late last year, Thai authorities forced up to 1,000 boat people to return to the open sea. They say Indian and Indonesian authorities have rescued about 650, but hundreds more are feared dead.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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